2017 saw the inaugural MGRS series take flight. Not knowing what to expect, I took part in most of the races and vied for the first ever elite title. Not to discredit the victory, the competition was fierce but nothing compared to the 2018 lineup. I began my 2018 title defense campaign against names like Soltan, Kickbush, Yankus, Mullis, Albaugh, Sovis, Burke, the HOF Simonster and even Acker himself. It was not going to be an easy task against that lineup on a regular basis. Come to find out not only did I have to compete against the names above but you can also throw in the newcomers that I wasn’t expecting like Stanko, Johnson and Keller.
***One of the main things Matt changed up from 2018, was the scoring. 2017 scoring included everyone in the race. 2018 scoring would only include those registered for the series. (For example: if you took 5th in the race but you were the 1st to finish of registered series riders, then you took home first place points (500) for the series points. 2nd is 495, 490, etc.
Waterloo – Yankus wins solo. I would go on to win the roughly 10 man field sprint to take home 2nd.
Melting Mann – Stanko rides off solo. I chase after him with 10 to go and nearly catch him at the line. Another 2nd.
Barry Roubaix – Felt so good for this race. Made it through Sager in the Top 10. Ended up flatting with 20 to go. DNF (would end up being 10 bonus points)
Hellkaat Hundie – After 100 miles of gravel racing… it would come down to a 4 up sprint between Acker, Soltan, Keller and myself. 3rd in that one.
Uncle Johns – Coming off Green Mountain Stage Race, I was feeling strong for this. Even brought the road bike. Little did I know, it was a grassy hill finish. Strategy would be to win solo. I went solo with 3 miles to go out of the 10 man group only to be caught with .5 miles to go. 9th overall and 4th out of series contenders.
MMM – Felt amazing this race. Even took the Diablo Mountain KOM but the sandy seasonal roads ended up being my ultimate demise. Stanko would soar to victory, tracking down Wakeley right at the end. 3rd for me and 2nd out of series contenders.
The last race of the season was the series finale: The Lowell 50. One of my favorite races of the year and what I would consider my home course. The last 3 races, I have finished 5th, 2nd, 3rd at Lowell. It felt like it was time for a win! Which coincidentally was one of the only ways I could defend the title going into the finale.
The last race and the entire series was mathematically going to come down to just 3 riders. Current series leader, Nick Stanko. Myself, where I was currently sitting in 2nd and Dan Yankus, who unlike Nick and myself has only done 4 races out of the 5 race max for points. However, he has won all 4 of those races. Nick with this race would get the max bonus points of 30 and I would only be getting 20 bonus points.
Nick Stanko – 4th or better to win the series regardless of where Yankus or I finish.
Dan Yankus – Win and Stanko finishes 5th or worse.
Myself – Win and Stanko finishes 6th or worse.
The Lowell 50 Finale:
The week leading into the finale, I had all the math added up for points and all the possible outcomes memorized. I knew exactly what I needed to do. Once the start list was released, I made sure to look who was registered for the series, as they would play an important role in the almost impossible odds. Those names included: Yankus, Stanko of course as well as Mullis, Johnson, Stange and coming out of retirement, the Simonster. Realistically, these were going to be the only factors in whether I won or lost the title. There was very little room for error.
The race started off quick with Yankus making an immediate move. Things would come back together 2 miles in but not for long as the first big climb “Rude Awakening” loomed up the road. Lately, I had been feeling very strong on the climbs… which is unusual for me, so I put the pedal to the floor up the climb which in turn created an early separation and left us with what would be the final group. The next big climb came a few miles later and again, I punched it. This time only 5 of the 12 survived and we had a nice little gap. For whatever reason, we couldn’t seem to get anything rolling and the group would eventually come back together, and would stay together for the next 30 miles. Which leads me to the final 5 miles. Jeff Johnson had made a little attack a mile before the big Ashley climb, I was next in line. I was just gonna let him go because I knew there was a few climbs left to pull it back and I was feeling good on all the climbs so far. No reason to panic. Right before the Ashley climb, Stanko makes an attack to bridge up and I sat there thinking “man, I wonder if he doesn’t know this course well or what lies around the next turn?” 10 seconds later, we make the turn to charge up the .2 mile (5%) Ashley climb. I immediately got out of the saddle and hammered up the entire climb. Only 7 were able to hang on. I checked to see who made it and noticed there was no Stanko. “LETS GO!” I shouted and proceeded to go all out down the backside of the climb. I also noticed that 3 series contenders in addition to me had made my group (Yankus, Stange, Mullis) and I saw Johnson by himself not too far behind us. There was my magic formula! Win and put 4 contenders between myself and Stanko. We charged ahead, I knew I just needed to be the first series contender to cross the line. Keyword: series contender. As we neared the finish line, the games had started. Nobody wanted to lead it out. We hit the pavement with a quarter mile to go. I found myself 4th in line out of the contenders and started to panic. I was also boxed in. Mullis was leading at this point. I knew worse case, I just had to beat Yankus for at least 2nd in the series. He was also boxed in. I let both Korieneks by on my left and then hit the nitro and followed their wheel. Just meters from the finish line, I got around Yankus, both legs cramping at the same time. I gave it everything I had to give and just inched out Yankus at the line.
I immediately started doing math in my head. At this point Yankus and I were tied in points, however, the tie breaker was whoever placed better at Lowell. I anxiously awaited the arrival of Stanko. Remember before in the outcome, I needed to WIN and go Nick to take 6th or worse. Since Mullis was in the series, this left me with 2nd place points, which meant the only way I would win is if Stanko rolled in 7th or worse. Currently, 4 had finished. Jeff Johnson rolled across in 5th and immediately came over to me. I told him, I needed Stanko to finish 7th. I knew there was one sole series contender left that was in our group (The Simonster) besides Stanko but I don’t remember seeing him either after the Ashley climb. 30 seconds later, I see the famous 3-T Q+M red and white pajama kit roll across the line with Stanko just seconds behind him. I looked at Jeff with disbelief… “I just won?! Oh my God, I just freaking won!” Stanko had finished 7th. I instantly added up the math one more time and came to the realization that it was a 3 way tie for the series title!! 10 races, hundreds of miles and the three of us all tied! Are you kidding me?!
Because of the tie breaker rules, we had a double tie breaker. For 1st and for 2nd. Stanko ended up taking home the #3 spot and the series title was essentially decided by less than a second as I had edged out Yankus in the sprint finish. I was in absolute shock at what had just happened. I successfully defended my title and was the 2018 MGRS Long Course Champion!
Huge thanks to Matt and Jenny Acker for all their hard work putting this series together. Thanks to all the amazing sponsors who helped support the series all season long. Extra special thanks to my sponsors that provided me support, gear, maintenance and bikes to get to this point.
Base Media Racing, Village Bike & Fitness, Specialized Bicycles and OtterBase.
2019 title defense… here we come.